Buying organic products creates a bankable future for a better environment and a safer food supply for generations to come, says Wendy Gordon, co-founder of Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet.
Wendy Gordon had just given birth to her second son in the fall of 1989 when the Alar pesticide scare began. Alar, sprayed on apples, was ranked as the highest cancer risk to children by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which released a report called "Intolerable Risk: Pesticides in Our Children's Food." This frightening study examined for the first time kids' exposure to and health risks from pesticide-laden foods. It also motivated Gordon to start lobbying for organic farming.
Publicity around the NRDC study increased when actress Meryl Streep joined the outcry demanding cleaner food for children. Streep and Gordon combined forces, and Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet, a Manhattan-based environmental education group, was born.
Gordon, 39, executive director of Mothers & Others, has two boys ages 8 and 11 and holds degrees in environmental health science. In the 1980s, as a staff member with the NRDC -- which concentrates on litigation to reach environmental goals -- she focused on the toxic substances in food and drink. During her tenure there she discovered her passion: studying environmental issues and how they relate to health. "We hold the power and responsibility over our future," Gordon says. "If we are provided with challenging information, we'll make the right choices. The right to know is essential -- that's at the heart of Mothers & Others."
Mothers & Others' mission is education. The group encourages safe and life-supporting consumer choices that promote a sustainable future -- one that preserves the Earth's plant and animal species and supports farming practices that produce nourishing food without damaging the environment with pesticides or exhausting the soil. Gordon believes food selection is one of the most powerful political and ecological choices we can make. And, when we refuse to buy into chemical and industrialized farming techniques, we start to solve other eco-problems, she says.
Striking an Environmental Balance
Gordon could recite a litany of environmental issues to address, but she targets sustainability as essential. "To me, sustainability is striking a balance between the extremes of taking too much and giving nothing back to the planet. Our industrialized society has over-taken the natural system," Gordon states. "We must establish a symbiotic relationship with the Earth. If we proceed in our current direction, we'll destroy our living systems." Examine your habits and start asking questions, she urges. "Question our industrial, food and water systems and ask: Who benefits? What are the by products? Is there waste? Answer questions about your most fundamental choices: What foods do you eat? What clothes do you wear? What do you clean your house with? Do the answers harm the environment, the farm worker or a Third World laborer?"
If the answers don't support ecological systems, make changes. "It's time to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions," Gordon says. "What we put in the air, soil and water affects us all. Our first step is to learn to appreciate the ecology of a system and how we're going to protect it better. We've managed to create artificial environments, so we can separate ourselves from consequences. That way we remove ourselves from the problem -- but only temporarily."
Bottled water is a good example. According to Gordon, by purchasing bottled water we diminish our responsibility to take care of the common water supply. "Those of us who can afford it, will, and the problem goes unsolved. We need to collectively realize the reservoir provides us with more than drinking water: It also provides delicate ecosystems and open space," Gordon points out.
Gordon remains optimistic about even the most monumental eco-problems. She encourages people to take small steps to improve the Earth, and like a single pebble dropping in the water, ever-widening ripples will result. Some of the places you can start:
1. Buy locally grown, seasonal and organic produce. The average mouthful of food travels 1,200 miles from farm to factory to warehouse to supermarket to our plates. Buying local products supports regional growers, thereby preserving farming in your area and requiring less money for transport. Become better acquainted with who grows your food and where it comes from.
2. Avoid rBGH. "This bioengineered hormone used in cows [to make them produce more milk] was an attempt by big business to say factory farming is best," Gordon contends. "Use of rBGH has the potential to destroy small farms not to mention the animals."
3. Buy organic cotton. Few people realize their clothes or bed linens contribute to ecological problems. Yet, conventionally grown cotton crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides -- a danger to the environment and farm workers. Gordon believes consumers can change this industry by buying organic fibers.
4. Avoid plastics. Many plastics can't be recycled and end up in landfills. Also, heating foods or storing them in plastic containers can leach out harmful estrogenic chemicals. Reassess your use of plastic containers.
5. Reduce dioxins. Form a group of concerned citizens devoted to helping eliminate dioxins, chemicals that mimic the action of hormones in the body. Dioxins can be carcinogenic and are by-products of plastic manufacturing or disposal. Contact your local hospital and voice your concern about dioxins the hospital might be emitting when it incinerates medical waste